Recently, the vivid discussion upon the subject has been spread all over the countries that can be identified as Welfare States.
Thanks to globalisation, it is necessary to evaluate the organisations of different states. In Western tradition it has been usually thought that those organisations should be based upon both rationally argued and morally acceptable principles even though some ‘irrational’ aspects associated with, for instance, the source of power or justice in a state are supposed.
In examining such principles, ethical study is helpful as forming rationally argued ethical principles in state and showing their relations with other aspects of society.
For instance, in Scandinavian countries, their universalistic notion of welfare has encountered the communitarian interpretation of it in many other European countries. Furthermore, both of these ideal types have confronted, in many different ways, the libertarian notion proposed in Anglo-American countries.
Scandinavian universalism is historically connected mostly with Lutheran ethics. Accordingly, communitarian model have a connection with Roman-Catholic tradition whereas libertarism with puritan tradition.
Because of these historical connections, it is interesting to examine the role of religious beliefs in morality both in these traditions and in general. Moreover, the dialog and confrontation with World Religions is the most actual issue in recent world and it is necessary to scrutinize our conceptual tools and consciousness of different possibilities when reflecting questions associated with this theme.
In mainstream Western tradition of ethics, the questions of morally good has been analysed either by studying good in itself or moral ends that are necessary for a good life. The former point of view was adopted by Plato in his doctrine of the Idea of Good. The latter was advocated by Aristotle as forming his teleological view of good life.
In theories of ethics, Platonic question of good in itself has been vivid throughout the history.
All remarkable Christian theologians from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas have discussed the subject.
In brief, God has been interpreted as a morally absolute being who is both good in itself and the end of good life. The role of God in human morality has been interpreted, for instance, by distinguishing natural and supernatural aspects of life as is done in the Scholastic theology or by distinguishing natural morality and specific religious morality as is done in some theories after the Reformation.
In modern times, most discussed theories in ethics are particularly those put forward by Immanuel Kant and G. E. Moore. For Kant goodness is based upon the good will of a person whose consciousness is structured by the categorical imperative. The content of such an imperative can be expressed in numerous ways. It is essential that, for one thing, moral decisions and acts should be universal and, secondly, that there is an inner duty to treat other persons as persons and not instrumentally.
For Moore the analysis of good can be based upon three alternatives: good refers (a) to some unanalysable and non-natural quality, (b) to some complex, or (c) to something else than either of former. Moore sketched out the theory of good as a quality that is apprehended intuitively.
In discussion after Moore, R. M. Hare, for instance, have suggested that good is a term of value that is both descriptive and prescriptive in such a sense that the prescriptive character of good is prior to its descriptive character.
John Mackie, for his part, has advocated a theory according to which there is not good in itself. Good is a subjective point of view that is associated with personal interests. The most extensive analysis of good is introduced by G. H. von Wright. For his view, the moral goodness is to be defined by the help of non-moral uses of the term good.
The question of the ends of a person in searching for good life is both historically significant and a vivid theme in modern discussion. Aristotle’s ethical view in particular has got many proponents in recent discussion on ethics. For instance, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor and Martha Nussbaum have suggested the return of Aristotelian ethics.
One characteristic of Aristotelian ethics is associated with the view that in moral good virtues that are traits of a person are prior to traits of acts. In some other theories goodness is associated with the good point of departure of an act (Kant), the consequences of acts (John Stuart Mill) or a contract between moral agents.
Utilitarism as well as social contract theory have provided historically significant background for both the economical view of welfare and that of social sciences. For instance, the theory put forward by Thomas Hobbes according to which the task of government is to guarantee the common-wealth constituted, among other things, by the survival of an individual member of it resembles theories of Welfare State put forward by social sciences and international politics. Correspondingly, rather economical view of state is involved in the theory of property rights and citizenship proposed by John Locke.
Historical adherents of theories mentioned above have been quantitative measurements of the standard of life and, for instance, determinations of the minimal standard of life as well as institutional characterisations of well-being presented by United Nations and corresponding institutions.
In social sciences, since 60’s quite famous have been researching quality of life. For instance, in Finnish discussion, Heikki Waris published 1968 a book of Welfare State that included a chapter dealing with the standard of life.
In 1976 Erik Allardt paid his attention to Having, Loving, and Being indicators of welfare. Such a change reflects the general movement from quantitative research to qualitative approach. I suppose that ethical theories of good life encounter theories of welfare in social sciences that involve the qualitative conceptions of welfare.